Shocking statistics about Minnesota college/university graduation rates


by Joe Nathan, 5/16/08 • A recent, little-noticed report provides some stunning, even shocking information about Minnesota’s colleges and universities. While a great deal of attention rightly has focused on our K-12 system, “Minnesota Measures: 2008 Report on Higher Education Performance,” by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education shows that improvements also are needed urgently in higher education.

The surprising news comes in looking at graduation rates, whether at Minnesota two- or four-year institutions. Let’s start with two-year programs.

As of 2005, 65.7 percent of South Dakota’s students who entered a two-year institution graduated within three years. Alaska, which ranked second, had a three-year graduation rate of 57.4%, and Wyoming (third) had 56.7%.

Minnesota ranked 24th, with a three-year graduation rate in our community and technical colleges of 34%. That’s 30% below South Dakota. Yikes!

According to Minnesota Measures, as of 2006, Minneapolis Community Technical College had a 19.1% three-year graduation rate, with another 20.9% transferring to another institution. Anoka Technical’s three-year graduation rate was 42.2%, with another 10.9% of students transferring to another institution. Anoka Ramsey’s three-year graduation rate was 14.4%, with 41.8% of students transferring. Other three-year graduation rates include:
Alexandria Technical 58.9%
Central Lakes 40.3%
Hennepin Tech 44.2%
Inver Hills, 12.2%
Normandale, 12.3%
North Hennepin 17.5%
Rainy River 25.4%
Rochester Community and Technical College 26.5%
St. Cloud Technical College 49.1%
St. Paul College 43.2%.

The picture is not a lot better with many of our four-year institutions. As of 2005, Rhode Island, (52.%), Delaware (51.8%) and Massachusetts (51.2%) were the top three in four-year graduation. Minnesota ranks 21st with a four-year graduation rate of 35%!

Even extending graduation out six years, Minnesota, with a 58.0% graduation rate, ranks 18th. Massachusetts tops the nation, with 68.6%.

Here are a few examples of four- and six-year graduation rates for public and private four year colleges/universities in 2006:
Augsburg College, 31.8% & 51.8%
Bemidji State 28.2 & 45.5%
Carleton, 88.1% & 92.8,%
College of St. Catherine, 39.7 & 56.9%
St. Cloud State, 19.3% & 46.0%
St. Olaf, 54.9% & 65.7%
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 32.5% & 60.7%
Winona State, 26.5% & 54.3%.

The report shows that Minnesota ranks 5th in the nation with 65.3% of 2004 high school graduates who ENROLLED in a two- or four-year higher education institution. About 50% of that 65.3% enter a Minnesota college or university, with the rest going to a higher education institution outside Minnesota.

Comparable figures for North Dakota were 67.6% and South Dakota 68.8%. Would you have predicted that a higher percentage of high school graduates in those two states would go on to a college or university? Not me.

Overall, we are doing pretty well in helping students enter higher education. But graduation rates are far too low.

While there is an achievement gap among students of different races, only 36% of white students who entered two-year colleges graduated in 2006, after 3 years (comparable figure for African Americans is 16%).

These are stunning, shocking statistics. We need much more discussion and action on higher education graduation rates.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. He welcomes reactions at